EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Eagles’ depth chart got a little clearer Friday night.
Actions speak louder than words, and there was plenty to glean from the team’s decisions regarding both its starting and reserve wideouts during a 31-31 tie against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium.
DeVonta Smith was a healthy scratch along with the majority of the team’s established starters on both sides of the ball, while Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins suited up. Reagor only played the opening series and had one catch for 18 yards. Watkins stayed in one series longer before taking the rest of the night off without a catch.
The decision to completely shelve Smith compared to his position-mates is an interesting one. It could be chalked up to Smith recently coming off a knee injury and the team taking a cautious approach with its first-round pick, but it could also indicate coach Nick Sirianni wanted Reagor and Watkins to get a little more work before the season opener.
JJAW makes a late push
Even more telling was the order in which the backup receivers came in. Greg Ward was the first off the bench, filling in once Reagor came out. JJ Arcega-Whiteside got some early run as well, and capitalized with a 42-yard touchdown catch near the end of the first half.
Joe Flacco, starting at quarterback in Jalen Hurts’ absence, found Arcega-Whiteside near the sideline and the former second-round pick made a contested catch and then broke a tackle to score from about 20 yards out.
It could be too little too late for Arcega-Whiteside, who had a mostly mundane training camp going into the preseason finale, but it’s a promising sign that he got playing time ahead of Travis Fulgham, another big-bodied receiver fighting for a roster spot.
Fulgham was clearly buried on the depth chart, only getting offensive snaps in the second half, and he hurt his case to make the roster Friday night after a costly fumble through the back of the end zone. If the Eagles go with five receivers, it will likely be between Arcega-Whiteside, Fulgham and John Hightower. Arcega-Whiteside helped himself a little against the Jets.
Kenneth Gainwell’s chances of carving out a significant role in the Eagles offense are growing.
The rookie running back had plenty of work on the team’s second drive, recording four carries for 30 yards to go along with a 15-yard catch. Gainwell proved early in training camp that he’s a natural route-runner out of the backfield and he’s got the best hands of any Eagles running back, but his vision on running plays was impressive as well against the Jets. He found the holes on a few inside zone plays, including on a 5-yard touchdown run where he squeezed between two blockers after surveying the landscape.
It wasn’t all perfect — Gainwell missed a blitz pickup that led to Flacco getting sacked and his size could present a problem even when he knows where to be in pass pro. If he can’t block, it’s hard to see him being on the field regularly, but he clearly brings some juice to the offense.
Dillard holds his own
We finally got to see Andre Dillard in preseason action.
After dealing with a knee injury, the 2019 first-round pick was suited up and without a knee brace for the first time since returning last week.
Dillard, who entered training camp in a competition for the starting left tackle job, struggled extensively in pass protection both before he got hurt and after, but held his own on Friday night. He had chip blocks helping him a few times during the first few drives, but only let up one or two pressures after playing the entire first half.
It’s noteworthy that Dillard played even after reserve linemen Jack Driscoll and Sua Opeta got yanked for rest, illustrative that the team wanted to see plenty of Dillard, whether it’s because he needed the reps or perhaps to showcase him to potential trade suitors.
Zech McPhearson had his struggles last week against the New England Patriots’ offensive starters, but there have been enough bright moments to believe he’ll eventually be a good player for the Eagles.
The fourth-round rookie cornerback had an interception on a two-point conversion late in the game against the Jets after having a solid week of joint practices. McPhearson might not be ready to log significant snaps early this season, but his ability to make plays on the ball when he’s not matched up against a first-team offense is promising.